Since a good event takes time to pull off, the time to start planning is now. If you've not done an event before, it does take some planning, but the rewards - new customers, customer loyalty and great new contacts - can definitely be worth the man hours.
Here are some steps to hosting a successful event.
1. Decide what you want to accomplish
Every successful event starts with a clear goal. Are you hoping to get prospects' contact information, sell a ton of product, or just say 'thank you' to current customers? Your goal will shape the event. For instance, if you want to sell product, an in-store event makes sense; if you want to thank B2B customers, you might host a dinner at a local restaurant.
2. Set a date
To maximize results, time your event right. Make sure it doesn't conflict with other events or dates your customers are likely to be booked for. You can also capitalize on existing holidays by timing your event to coincide with them—for instance, a retailer could host a Small Business Saturday event to increase awareness of this national day for shopping at small, independent businesses.
3. Determine the nature of the event
Your date helps determine the scope of your event. For instance, if you want to do a Thanksgiving event but it's already the 1st Thursday in November, you'll need to keep it on a smaller scale. If you're doing a New Year's celebration, you can make grander plans. As you envision your event, consider:
- Where will the event take place (your business? Outdoors? A local restaurant? A hotel conference room?). Check into space availability and find out if any permits are needed.
- How many people will attend? If it's an invitation-only event such as a dinner or seminar, you'll be able to get a head count by requesting RSVPs. If it's a more free-form event such as an in-store author appearance, you'll have to go with an educated guess.
- What equipment and extras will you need? This could range from tables, chairs and microphones to pens and paper or refreshments.
- What's your budget? Add up costs as you plan and scale it back if needed. Consider bartering with local businesses for some of what you need or, if it makes sense with your event, seeking other businesses (complementary to yours) to serve as sponsors.
- What staff will you need? Plan now to schedule workers for the event and make sure you have all hands on deck. It's a good idea to have someone besides you in charge of the logistics so he or she can execute and keep track of all the moving parts.
4. Start promoting
Your event needs attendees, so develop a mini-marketing plan for how you'll promote it. Use all your marketing and advertising outlets, including word-of-mouth, social media, print or online ads, flyers, store signage and more.
Reach out to local reporters and bloggers asking them to attend and/or write about the event (ideally, both before and after). Send information to any local publications that post or print event listings. Let local business organizations, such as the chamber of commerce, know about it.
5. Be prepared
'Hope for the best, but plan for the worst' should be your mantra. A few weeks before the event, meet with your employees to run through what will happen and what might go wrong. No detail is too small to consider (just ask any speaker who's had a presentation ruined by lack of an extension cord). Things like napkins, duct tape and extra pens can make or break your event.
6. Capture customer information—and keep in touch
If your event attracts new customers or prospects, gather their information and follow up with them later. You can request information when they RSVP, ask people to sign up on a clipboard to get on your mailing list, or do the 'business cards in a fishbowl' thing. Follow up within a few weeks while the event is fresh in their minds to provide something of value such as a discount code, free consultation or useful information.
After each event, review what went wrong (and right) so you can learn for next time. The more events you host, the easier it becomes and the more you'll be able to use this valuable marketing tool.